Is DuckDuckGo safe?

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alt="Is DuckDuckGo Safe in 2024?"

Yes, DuckDuckGo is safe to use. Known for its commitment to not tracking users, it offers greater user privacy than widely used search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. In fact, we frequently name it as the best search engine for privacy. However, privacy and security are not absolute, and users should still be aware of the privacy risks while using DuckDuckGo. 

Jump to…
What is DuckDuckGo?
Can you be tracked on DuckDuckGo?
9 advantages and disadvantages of DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo vs. other search engines
How to use DuckDuckGo safely

What is DuckDuckGo?

Founded in 2008 by Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo is a tech company that’s known for its flagship product: the DuckDuckGo search engine. DuckDuckGo’s core philosophy is simple: your data is yours alone. If you don’t willingly hand over your personal info, the search engine won’t hoard it. 

Its staunch commitment to user privacy sets it apart because, unlike more mainstream search engines—like Google, which is used for about 85% of searches worldwide—DuckDuckGo doesn’t track or store your queries. This means greater privacy for users, along with significantly fewer ads in search results. This privacy-focused approach has made DuckDuckGo the default search engine for Tor (The Onion Router), known for its anonymous browsing capabilities.

DuckDuckGo also makes a browser, offering greater privacy while you visit websites, not just while searching. Its browser blocks third-party trackers from companies like Google and Facebook, and does more to conceal your activity from the sites you visit (such as the previous site you visited). However, this article is primarily about the search engine.

Read more: Best private search engines for secure and anonymous browsing

Can you be tracked on DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo’s privacy policy boldly proclaims “We don’t track you. That’s our Privacy Policy in a nutshell.” Because it does not record user information, it cannot create a history of a user’s search queries or the sites they browsed. “Viewing search results on DuckDuckGo is anonymous.” In contrast to Google’s business practices, DuckDuckGo says it has “never sold any personal information. Period.”

So DuckDuckGo isn’t tracking you. What about third parties? Are your searches safe from them? There are ways for someone to track what you’ve searched for—but they require the intruder to have access to your device or for you to reveal your information directly. 

When you can’t be tracked

  • No data collection: DuckDuckGo differentiates itself from other search engines like Google by not collecting user data. When you perform a search, you are completely anonymous to DuckDuckGo, with no history.
  • Secure search transmission: DuckDuckGo uses the POST method for search queries, enhancing transmission security compared to the standard GET method used by many search engines. This reduces tracking and data leakage risks.
  • HTTPS encryption: DuckDuckGo ensures you’re visiting a site with HTTPS encryption if it’s available, which secures data during transmission.

When you can be tracked

  • Activity saved to your device: The encryption provided by DuckDuckGo doesn’t extend to data stored locally on your device. This means that your local search history can still be accessible and trackable on your end.
  • Visual tracking on DuckDuckGo: Certain user interactions within DuckDuckGo, like clicked links changing color (i.e. going from white to grey), are visually trackable on your device:

  • User input on external sites: If you share personal information while using DuckDuckGo, like signing up for services or entering data on websites, these actions can lead to tracking by those external sites. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your personal information, but it can’t control external site behaviors.

DuckDuckGo’s past tracking concerns 

DuckDuckGo’s policy firmly states no collection or sharing of personal information, even if you willingly choose to share it with them. However, in the past, DuckDuckGo’s browser allowed some Microsoft trackers as part of a syndication agreement. This raised concerns among users about the level of privacy offered. The issue was resolved in August 2022, with DuckDuckGo enhancing its privacy measures to disallow Microsoft tracking scripts in its browsing apps and extensions. However, despite the resolution, the incident highlighted the need for ongoing transparency in privacy-focused services.

9 advantages and disadvantages of DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is renowned for its commitment to user privacy, but like any technology, it has its strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these can help you appreciate the search engine’s value and understand its limitations.

1. HTTPS by default: DuckDuckGo employs HTTPS encryption which forces sites you visit to use an encrypted connection wherever possible. 1. Local device vulnerability: DuckDuckGo’s encryption doesn’t extend to data stored on your device, which can still be accessed and tracked.
2. No search leakage: By using the POST method for searches and not sending referrer headers, DuckDuckGo minimizes the risk of your search terms being shared.2. External site data sharing: While DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your information, external sites can still track data if you share personal details on them.
3. No stored user data: The search engine doesn’t track or store user data, and only stores the necessary data for basic functions like spelling corrections and search suggestions. 3. Some tools function suboptimally: Certain integrated tools, like Apple Maps, may not perform as effectively as their counterparts in other search engines.
4. Global Privacy Control (GPC): This feature sends a legally binding request to sites not to collect or sell user data, offering more enforceable privacy than standard Do Not Track (DNT) requests.4. Slower organic search results: DuckDuckGo’s commitment to privacy, which includes not tracking or storing user data, can lead to less optimized and slightly slower search responses compared to engines that personalize results using user data.  
5. Private search: DuckDuckGo follows a no-logs policy, ensuring no user-identifiable data like IP addresses or search queries are stored. Through its Privacy Essential extension, DuckDuckGo also blocks intrusive ads. 5. Reliance on Bing: DuckDuckGo largely sources its search results from Bing, which might be a downside for users who don’t like Bing search results.
6. Privacy Grade rating: DuckDuckGo evaluates websites for their privacy practices and assigns a Privacy Grade, aiding users in making informed decisions about the sites they visit.6. Limited privacy with “!bang” feature: DuckDuckGo’s !bang allows quick searches on specific sites directly from the search bar. However, this convenience comes with a privacy trade-off. For example, searching Google through !bang is similar to searching directly on Google, where your searches and data may be tracked.
7. Content Security Policy (CPS): DuckDuckGo’s CSP also prevents your browser from accessing any known malicious sites.7. Search terms in URL: DuckDuckGo shows search terms in the URL, unlike some private engines that encrypt URLs. This can be a privacy concern, as it makes search terms visible and potentially accessible in browser history or to anyone with access to your device.
8. Pure search results: DuckDuckGo provides unbiased search results not influenced by user location or browsing history. The search engine also offers a single endless scroll instead of multiple pages. 8. Search terms in browser history: Since search terms appear in the address bar, they’re also recorded in browser history. This could compromise privacy, especially if steps to clear history or use private browsing modes aren’t consistently taken.
9. Burn bar: Available via DuckDuckGo’s mobile app, this fire symbol allows for the easy erasure of browsing data and cookies after each session.9. Optional location sharing: DuckDuckGo allows optional sharing of approximate location for localized results. While it doesn’t share specific details like IP or identifiable information, this feature might raise privacy concerns for some users.

DuckDuckGo vs. other search engines

Choosing the right search engine and web browser isn’t just about finding information quickly. It’s a balance between protecting your privacy and enjoying a feature-rich online experience. To help you weigh the trade-offs between the two, we’ve compared DuckDuckGo, Google, Bing, and Yahoo:

Privacy High (doesn’t track or store user data)Low (collects extensive user data)Low (collects user data)Low (collects user data)
Search personalization None (no user data used)High (tailored results based on user data)Moderate (uses some user data)Moderate (uses some user data)
User experienceSimplified, privacy-focusedIntuitive and integrated with other Google servicesVisually appealing with unique daily background imagesCustomizable interface with news and other features
Unique features!Bangs for direct website searches; one-scroll experienceIntegrated services like Google Maps, Google WorkspaceStrong video indexing; Bing Rewards programIntegrated with Yahoo’s other services like Yahoo Mail
Local search and geo-targeting Basic (general region estimation)Advanced (precise location targeting)ModerateModerate
Search verticalsWeb, Image, Video, News, MapsExtensive (Web, Image, Video, etc.)Web, Image, Video, News, MapsWeb, Image, Video, News, Maps
AdvertisingBased on search results, not the userTargeted based on user dataTargeted with an option for rewardsTargeted based on user data
Video search experience BasicIntegrated with YouTubePreview and playback featuresBasic
Web browserDuckDuckGo Browser (privacy-focused)Google Chrome (feature-rich, integrated)Microsoft Edge (integrated with Windows, Rewards)No dedicated browser

How to use DuckDuckGo safely

Even though DuckDuckGo is renowned for its privacy focus, ramping up your safety game is always a smart bet. The most straightforward way to do this? Pair DuckDuckGo with a high-quality VPN like ExpressVPN.

When you use a VPN with DuckDuckGo, your internet connection becomes a fortress. It’s not just about hiding your searches; a VPN encrypts all your browsing activity and app uses. This setup creates a shield against data-hungry internet service providers, nosy Wi-Fi admins, and lurking hackers, ensuring that your traffic is known only to you.

What’s your go-to search engine and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

FAQ: About DuckDuckGo safety

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